Jack and Janis Discuss Free Will, Part III

Both of the brothers remain silent for a few minutes, as they admire the scenery.  Their minds focused on the squawk of a bird and the motley chorus of insect noises.  Eventually, Jack comes back to the topic at hand.

Jack: So, what will you do if science proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, that free will does not exist?

Janis: That depends on what scientists actually learn.

Jack: What do you mean?

Janis: Well, let’s assume that we do not have free will, which I take to mean we do not have any conscious control over our decisions. 

Jack: Right, so we can’t consciously make any choices.

Janis: Correct…However, something in us—our subconscious perhaps—might still have control over our choices.  Therefore, we would still be making the decisions—we just wouldn’t be doing it consciously. 

Jack: Yes, but would our unconscious be free?  Wouldn’t its choices be predetermined?

Janis: Our unconscious--or whatever non-conscious portion of our brain is involved—would obviously not be “free” in the classical sense.  However, that does not mean that its choices would be predetermined.

Jack: I think you mean “our brains.”  Parallel word association and all of that…Either way, I don’t understand what you are getting at.

Janis: Well, for one thing, some of our unconscious brain’s decisions might be random.  In other cases, its choices, whether random or not, might not be repeatable—even when every variable is exactly the same.  [Janis muses on this fact for a second].  Perhaps you might also refer to those instances as random.  Regardless, the point is that our unconscious brain might be able to make decisions which are not determined beforehand. 

Janis: [continuing before Jack can speak] Let me put it another way.  I think it will be impossible for a researcher, at any point in the future, to prove that all of our actions are predetermined.  As such, I am free to believe that I am autonomous because some part of me is able to actively make decisions, eg. choices that are not predetermined. 

Jack: In thinking about it, researchers would be hard pressed to demonstrate that any action is predetermined. 

Janis: Even better…Regardless, as long as I can hold to the belief in my autonomy, I can assert my rights as an individual.  In other words, I am entitled to basic rights, such as the freedoms of speech, expression, etc.  I am also responsible for my actions, since I am the author of those decisions.

Jack: But what if all of our actions are predetermined?  Wouldn’t that depress you?  Wouldn’t it also absolve you of any responsibility for your actions?

Janis: I don’t think that it would.  Let me explain…in a moment.

Neither brother speaks for a few minutes and instead focus on the sights and sounds around them.

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